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Cecil Beaton: The Royal Portraits (Victoria and Albert Museum)

Claudia Acott Williams, Hugo Vickers


A contemporary look at Cecil Beaton’s portraits of the Royal Family and how they helped create the public face of the House of Windsor

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Cecil Beaton: The Royal Portraits looks back in time to tell a very modern tale: the creation of a public image. Offering a fresh appraisal of Beaton’s portraits of the British royal family, the book explores not only the finished images but also the sittings in which they were created, revealing Beaton’s central role in shaping the public face of the House of Windsor and the ways in which he collaborated with his subjects.

Organised chronologically, from the 1930s to the 1970s, each of the book's four chapters comprises an introductory essay, plates with extended captions, and one or two in-depth analyses of a particular sitting. Throughout, a variety of contextual material – contact sheets, test shots, out-takes, sketches, letters, journals, tear-sheets – helps build a detailed picture of Beaton's working methods, the relationships he developed with his sitters, and how the eventual portraits were received.

Drawing on the Victoria and Albert Museum’s unparalleled collection of Beaton’s photographs, Cecil Beaton: The Royal Portraits will appeal not only to those interested in the photographer and his work, but also to anyone for whom the distinction between the private world and the public face of the royal family remains a source of fascination.

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'An intimate view of [Beaton's] mythmaking work'
Vanity Fair

'Stunning ... Sheds light on how the royals were portrayed in the mid-20th century'

'In this historic homage to the late great creative master, Claudia Acott-Williams, curator of Kensington Palace, details the life of one of royal history’s most fascinating figures, with a wealth of barely-seen shots of the generation of sovereigns'

'Full of captivating fresh insights, it’s a must-read not only for those interested in the legendary photographer and his work, but also for anyone who finds the distinction between the private world and the public face of the Royal Family an ongoing source of fascination'

'This new book of photos celebrates the work that Beaton, a famed photographer and diarist as well as an Oscar-winning set and costume designer, did with the royal family, but it’s more than just pretty pictures. The tome also speaks to how the Windsors saw themselves and wanted the public to see them, and the way that they used photography to help in the serious business of myth-making'
Town & Country

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 29.5 x 24.5 cm

Extent: 240 pp

Illustrations: 224

Publication date: 12 October 2023

ISBN: 9780500480922

Contents List

1. 1930–39
2. 1939–45
3. 1945–60
4. 1960–79

About the Author

Claudia Acott Williams is a collections curator at Historic Royal Palaces, specializing in royal, court and dress history from the 18th century to the present day. Currently the Curator of Kensington Palace, she is responsible for the presentation of the palace interiors and the displayed and stored collections. Exhibitions she has curated or co-curated include Victoria: A Royal Childhood, Victoria Revealed, Diana: Her Fashion Story and Fashion Rules: Restyled. She is also the author of The Crown in Focus: Two Centuries of Royal Photography, published by Merrell in 2020.